Will the Lib Dems go on getting an “anti-war” bonus?
After yesterday’s first full debate in the Commons in Government time on Iraq since the war ended in 2003 the question needs to be asked – how big an issue will this be at the next General Election?
Will the presumably Brown-led Labour administration be able to cut itself off from the massive negatives that the war created for the party in 2005?
Could the issue for post-Blair Labour have nothing like the electoral potency that we saw last time when it appeared to produce a 5.5% switch to the Liberal Democrats? Will, indeed, Gordon be able to win back many of those who deserted Labour because of the war?
There’s not much help from the polls. For the impact on voters of Iraq and its aftermath has hardly been examined in recent months. According to the helpful table on UK Polling Report the last time an Iraq question was asked was by ICM for the Guardian as far back as July.
Tony Blair had a smart strategy to deal with yesterday’s debate – he made sure that he wasn’t there. This move brings biting criticism in some papers this morning with the Independent describing it as “weak and cowardly”. For Labour this might not matter much any more – Blair is yesterday’s man, but he was supported by Brown.
For the Tories, too, Iraq is an issue they would like to move on from. They supported Tony Blair in those crucial Commons votes ahead of the 2003 invasion and any attempt to criticise now has to be handled with the utmost care in order to avoid the charge of opportunism. The David Cameron strategy seems to be to keep his head down.
An element that could keep Iraq alive in the UK is next year’s American Presidential election. Unlike here Iraq continues to dominate the political environment and the only leading contender on either side who was consistently against is Barack Obama. If he gets the Democratic nomination then Iraq will become a major differentiator between the candidates.
For the Lib Dems in the UK the party’s opposition to Iraq and the role played powerfully over the past four years by Ming Campbell will continue to be a big plus.
The ability of Gordon to win back many of those Labour voters who switched to the Lib Dems last time might be what determines the overall outcome. This is a hard one to call.